For Ballet Manila, the show will go on – thanks to the overwhelming support of family and friends

For Ballet Manila, the show will go on – thanks to the overwhelming support of family and friends

Lisa is in the middle of this huddle of dancers waiting to embrace and comfort her on October 2, hours after the blaze that hit the Star City complex. Photo by Mark Sumaylo

By Susan A. De Guzman

Begin again.

For Ballet Manila artistic director Lisa Macuja-Elizalde, it’s the prevailing thought amid an incomprehensible loss that she is still grappling to make sense of.

The laughter and the tears: Osias Barroso presents a cake to Lisa in an impromptu birthday gathering at Ballet Manila’s Donada studio on October 3. Photo by Mark Sumaylo

Last week, the massive fire that hit the family-owned Star City and Manila Broadcasting Company complex also reduced Star Theater to ashes and damaged Aliw Theater, two venues close to her heart as these had been personal gifts from her husband Fred Elizalde and home to Ballet Manila’s performances for nearly twenty years.

What made it even more heartbreaking was that Ballet Manila had been all set to raise the curtains on its latest season production, Giselle, in two weeks at Aliw Theater.

“The thing about losing venues like Star Theater and Aliw Theater is, it really brings you out of your comfort zone and I guess it will just make us accomplish what we wanted to accomplish early on – to bring ballet to the people and people to the ballet, which was our mission and vision from Day One,” Lisa told the dancers and staff of Ballet Manila, a day after the devastating fire.

Ballet Manila artistic director Lisa Macuja-Elizalde, with co-artistic director Osias Barroso to her right, gives the company an update on the support that has come their way particularly from the arts community. Photo by Susan A. De Guzman

By her side was friend and co-artistic director Osias “Shaz” Barroso who has been with her through thick and thin, and particularly since 1995, when the two of them and ten other dancers formed the fledgling Ballet Manila. Through those early years, they survived with meager resources and yet somehow found audiences and stages even in the country’s remote areas – never mind if it meant sharing a makeshift dressing room with the occasional frogs, bats or goats. The secret lay in the network of family and friends who did what they could to help the rookie company gain its footing, resulting in shows nationwide – from Abra to Zamboanga – in its initial year.

Today, nearly twenty-five years later, and under the grimmest of circumstances, Lisa has realized it is the same kind of support that will sustain Ballet Manila through this latest challenge. Gripped at first by mind-numbing shock, Lisa didn’t quite know what to do. But the surge of encouragement she has gotten this past week from fellow artists, many from colleagues in Philstage who reached out to her through a Viber group, affirmed what she already knew deep down inside – that somehow, no matter what, the show must go on.

The poster of Giselle at the Ballet Manila studio shows the original show dates in Aliw Theater. The ballet classic will now be staged at the CCP Main Theater on October 17. Photo by Susan A. De Guzman

Thus, on the very same day, while smoke still billowed from the burned entertainment complex, Lisa was able to say as much to the dancers and staff of Ballet Manila in the company’s studio on Donada Street. As she shared on her social media accounts, the outpouring of support and assistance has been overwhelming – with a venue grant for the Cultural Center of the Philippines Main Theater through artistic director Chris Millado; an offer to lend sets, backdrops and props from Ballet Philippines through CCP chairperson and former BP president Margie Moran-Floirendo, backed by BP bigwigs, National Artist Alice Reyes, Antonio “Tony Boy” Cojuangco and Kathleen “Maymay” Liechtenstein; and a discounted fee from the Manila Symphony Orchestra through executive director Jeffrey Solares and president Maan Hontiveros.

“Because of the ‘bayanihan’ spirit of the Filipino (arts) community, we have a performance of Giselle in the CCP Main Theater on October 17, Thursday, at 8 p.m.,” wrote Lisa, who enjoined people to buy tickets to the show with the hope that enough interest is generated to merit a second night.

The day after the fire, on October 3, Ballet Manila artists and staff gathered around Lisa once more in the studio to greet her on her birthday. After blowing the candle on her cake, and with eyes still puffy from crying on and off, she told them the good news that another venue is being considered so that they can still present Sleeping Beauty. Productions featured in the Ballet Manila’s ongoing 24th season, down to the Carmina Burana/ La Traviata twinbill in February, will continue to be finalized and rehearsed, even though the final outcome may be much more modest than originally planned.

Costumes for Giselle, stored in BM’s Donada headquarters, were already being prepared for the shows in Aliw Theater and will now be used for the one in CCP. Photo by Susan A. De Guzman

Through it all, Lisa underscored the importance of relationships. “The family, friends and community that is now supporting us, the community that is mourning the loss of Star City…” she intoned.

Ballet Manila, she said, may have to re-orient itself to a direction that will take them back to the company’s roots touring the Philippines, performing in school gyms, cockpit arenas and town plazas and even on the streets.

“And that’s why we have to really work extra hard because we have to make our dancing even more special now that we are ‘homeless,’ and being helped by so many people to come back. And I do believe that we can come back,” Lisa stressed.

Despite admittedly being in grief and taking things a day at a time, Lisa expressed optimism and gratitude in her final words at the impromptu birthday gathering. “This unfortunate incident that happened  – maybe five, six years from now when we look back at it – we’ll say, it was a kick in the butt we needed to change things, to go back, to revisit why we created Ballet Manila and why we’re continuing to dance, teach, mentor, and perform. Thank you for your patience, understanding, loyalty, and commitment to our community, to our family that is Ballet Manila.”

Principal dancer Romeo Peralta’s shirt proved apt for the gathering. It reads “Encore: Ballet Manila” and shows an image reflective of the company’s ongoing 24th season dubbed On Pointe. Photo by Susan A. De Guzman

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